COVID-19 SPECIAL

Contractors gear up to meet new safety requirements

They take steps to comply but uncertainty remains over when they can resume work

Wee Chwee Huat, which houses about 120 of its workers in a factory-converted dormitory, along with some from other firms, will also be taking steps to reduce the density in the dormitory, such as by allowing just one worker to occupy a bunk bed. Wee
Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction has painted white boxes on lorries that transport its workers to mark out the 1m gap that they should observe. Workers may place their belongings inside the 1m white boxes, and sit inside the yellow boxes.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Wee Chwee Huat, which houses about 120 of its workers in a factory-converted dormitory, along with some from other firms, will also be taking steps to reduce the density in the dormitory, such as by allowing just one worker to occupy a bunk bed. Wee
Wee Chwee Huat, which houses about 120 of its workers in a factory-converted dormitory, along with some from other firms, will also be taking steps to reduce the density in the dormitory, such as by allowing just one worker to occupy a bunk bed. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Contractors like Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction are now gearing up to comply with new safety measures that have to be in place before they can resume work from June 2 when Singapore enters the first phase of the economy's re-opening after the circuit breaker.

Mr V. Manimaran, Wee Chwee Huat's operations manager, said that the firm, which is currently acting as a sub-contractor for about 10 projects, for instance, has taken steps to ensure safe distancing in its lorries for workers.

Boxes have been painted on the vehicles to mark out a 1m gap between them. A system utilising artificial intelligence has also been installed on the lorries, which will trigger an alarm if too many workers get on, or if they come too close to one another.

Other contractors are also taking steps to comply with the new measures which were unveiled by the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 outbreak earlier this month.

These were aimed at guarding against a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the construction sector, which has accounted for a significant number of the cases so far.

In dormitories, workers are to be prevented from inter-mixing. Procedures to facilitate contact tracing should be in place at work sites, and workers have to be tested for Covid-19 before heading back to site.

Approval from the Building and Construction Authority is also necessary before works can restart. Critical and time-sensitive projects, such as MRT works and the deep tunnel sewerage system, as well as Build-to-Order (BTO) flats, may be prioritised.

Mr Johnny Lim, executive director of Teambuild Engineering and Construction, which is in charge of several housing projects, said that the firm is making plans to ensure that workers comply with measures such as wearing face masks on work sites, and to ensure that workers can be segregated into different zones at work sites.

This will help to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted on the work site.

Mr Roger Heng, managing director of LSK Engineering, also plans to stagger the working hours for his employees, so that they can take transport to their work sites at different timings.

Wee Chwee Huat, which houses about 120 of its workers in a factory-converted dormitory, along with some from other firms, will also be taking steps to reduce the density in the dormitory, such as by allowing just one worker to occupy a bunk bed.

 
 
 

"We are discussing with other workers' employers on how to rehouse them (in other dorms)," said Mr Manimaran.

But all five contractors interviewed by The Straits Times said that there is still uncertainty about how soon they can resume work. For instance, some are still waiting to hear from the authorities on which workers will be prioritised for testing. This makes it difficult for them to plan ahead for the resumption of work.

The contractors say it could also be difficult to comply with new measures which prohibit cross-deployment of teams across project sites, and for all workers involved in a project to be housed together, irrespective of their employer.

Previously, workers from various contractors were more than likely to have been staying in different dorms.

Mr Lim said that while capacity can be beefed up in some temporary quarters on construction sites to house workers from different sub-contractors for the same project, this may not be easily done for some smaller projects.

The Singapore Contractors Association Limited is already looking into helping contractors facing housing issues. In a circular last month, it said that it is working with government agency JTC Corporation to provide temporary occupation licences to be used for state land to build short-term dormitories for their workers and those of their sub-contractors.

Mr Chris Lim, operations director of HSL Constructor, which handles a number of infrastructure projects as a main contractor, said that the new requirements against the cross-deployment of workers mean that productivity for sub-contractors will drop, which could lead to higher project costs.

"Some may not be able to honour the initial prices quoted, and it is likely that contractors will have to re-negotiate their contracts with sub-contractors," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2020, with the headline 'Contractors gear up to meet new safety requirements'. Subscribe